Covid agreement: A solution in conflict with nature and communities

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By Patricio Segura
Translated by Jamie Lauer
It was said systematically. Insistently. Not for the purpose of fortune-telling, but only guided by the clarity of being governed by an elite who is not up to the task of meeting the signals coming from the regions and the planet.
It was warned that the bill should not be paid by nature and communities. That the ruling elite (both male and female – greed knows no gender) should not use the October rebellion and the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue to plunder and line their pockets.
This warning was not unreasonable. What has already transpired on too many occasions was a latent possibility. It is part of the country we are met with in 2020, a country that is unequal and centralized, with multiple sacrifice zones and extensive amounts of degraded land. A country in which the mobilizations against large investment projects are part of everyday life, deepening in the last decade with the start of thermoelectric, hydroelectric, mining and many other initiatives that adorn the landscape of a Chile rich in nature and biodiversity, which some believe is only synonymous with natural resources. With productivity.
That’s why upon reading the “Marco de Entendimiento para Plan de Emergencia por la Protección de los ingresos de las Familias y la Reactivación Económica y del Empleo” (the “Framework of Understanding for Emergency Plan to Protect Family Income and Revive the Economy and Employment”), signed last week between the government and some political parties (the governing parties and the “opposition” parties: the leftist Party for Democracy, the Socialist Party, and the centrist Christian Democrats Party), one comes away very much unimpressed. That was no surprise, even though we held out some hope for the necessary change. One of life and death, even. Seriously.
One full paragraph sheds light on what economic reactivation means for the extractivist model, the model to which adheres a political system as if it were the Titanic: plundering nature and communities. Which, in any case, I am not very sure is only anthropocentrism… there is surely some good business in there too.
“Decreasing the waiting period for issuing permits for investment initiatives as well as the timeline for environmental evaluation of large projects also through administrative channels, assuring strict compliance with environmental regulations,” says the agreement in the section titled “promotion of private investment” (“fomento a la inversión privada”), subsection “regulatory streamlining and acceleration of timelines for investment projects” (“agilización regulatoria y de plazos para proyectos de inversion”). It sounds good, but we already know what less evaluation time means: fewer possibilities for rigorous analysis and, in the case of existing citizen participation, putting limits on their means of influence.
Basically, an environmental fast-track. In any case, it’s something we have seen and become familiar with before during the governments of Michelle Bachelet and Piñera I.
They add in the “Acceleration of Investments” area (“aceleramiento de las inversiones”) the “operationalization of the entire portfolio of concession projects already in the pipeline today, streamlining administrative processes, as well as accelerating bidding for projects in the final stage of evaluation.”
And that’s just for private projects.
On fiscal matters, they proceed in dressing up the matter a little more. They talk about “investment with a ‘green’ emphasis and mitigation of climate change accelerating the portfolio of public investment tied to construction of reservoirs, irrigation works and rural drinking water, desalinating plants, investment in ERNC [Mainstream Renewable Power].”
A state and private sector, intermediated by the governing elite and some opposition leaders, that essentially follows the same extractivist playbook of the past in pursuit of more and more growth. That's what the text says, because even if you use nice words like "green" or "sustainable" we already know and have lived what they are really thinking.
The conclusion is clear. This elite is not up to the task of responding to the needs and demands of today’s world. For sure, we've known that for a long time, but this was an opportunity, one more chance, to do something different. They have not understood that the paradigm needs to be changed, that we must move forward at a steady pace with solutions based in nature, not against it.
Multiple organizations have already said so. What’s required is a sustainable economic recovery.
As a principle: "take the first steps toward an economy centered on the care of the environment, health and life.”
And what does this mean?
Well, investments “in line with the energy transition, climate commitments, biodiversity protection and water security, to boost job creation and ensure a recovery that brings long-term socio-environmental benefits, that come from value-generating industries, not price cycles restricted to the extraction of natural resources, without accounting for losses of environmental heritage.” There are many environmental initiatives already, such as energy efficiency, ecosystem restoration, water treatment, sustainable mobility, reforestation and restoration of wetlands and at the landscape level,” as has proposed environmental groups such as Fima, Oceana, Observatorio de Políticas Económicas, Chile Sustentable and Greenpeace.
And one of them that makes sense most to me, in line with the babble of economists about the importance of small businesses (when in fact the emphasis has almost always been to support big business), is the empowerment of local sustainable economies: "We propose the establishment of specific measures for the protection of local economies, emphasizing those carried by traditional communities related, especially, to subsistence activities of low environmental impact and high social value, such as artisanal fishing or low-scale agriculture, which generate quality employment, income, livelihoods and food sovereignty for communities throughout Chile, being of crucial importance in terms of resilience for these communities, and for the resilience of a country rich in cultural diversity.”
That country is the one that, despite the government, is already being built in so many places. And it’s the country that will continue to advance, in juxtaposition to this so-called agreement that has no base nor legitimacy because it simply is about keeping things the same as it ever was. It’s an agreement that tries to return us to a world of predators.

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